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Oscar Hopes for ‘The Power of the Dog,’ ‘Belfast’ and Jessica Chastain Face Key Test With This Weekend’s Awards

With the Directors Guild, BAFTA and Critics Choice Awards taking place in a two-day stretch, momentum is up for grabs

AWARDS BEAT

When it comes to determining who’s really on top in this year’s awards races, this weekend could be one of the most momentous. Or maybe one of the most misleading.

The weekend will begin with Directors Guild Awards in Beverly Hills on Saturday, with the Annie Awards (for animation) taking place in a virtual format at the same time. The EE British Academy Film Awards (i.e., BAFTA) will take place on Sunday in London, followed almost immediately by the Critics Choice Awards in Los Angeles (with a satellite ceremony in London.) And immediately after Critics Choice, the Golden Reel Awards for sound editing will take place in a worldwide stream.

Given the state of the Academy, and the difference between its voters and the ones who’ve cast ballots for this weekend’s shows, we can’t exactly trust anything we’ll learn this weekend. But with Oscar voting starting on Wednesday, a number of films, people and groups have a lot at stake over the next two days. Here are some of them:

“The Power of the Dog”
By all normal awards-season markers, Jane Campion’s slow-burn Western is the clear front runner. But it’s a front runner that has a lot of people thinking it’s vulnerable to being beaten by a friendlier movie like “Belfast,” “CODA,” “King Richard” or “West Side Story,” largely because the preferential system of counting votes used in the Best Picture category rewards broadly acceptable favorites over more divisive ones.  

A show of strength this weekend, though, could silence a lot of doubters. Of course, with front-runner status comes with high expectations – so a show of strength for Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” would mean Campion winning the Directors Guild Award and then the film itself winning at both BAFTA and Critics Choice. But Campion is the prohibitive favorite at DGA, and her film is in good shape to win at BAFTA and the Critics Choice Awards as well.

If it sweeps, it’ll be hard to overlook the signs and bet against it – although there’s little question that “The Power of the Dog” is more of a passion movie than a consensus movie, so even then it won’t feel like a lock at the Dolby Theatre.

But whatever happens, “The Power of the Dog” will have one reason to celebrate this weekend, because Campion has recovered from a bout of COVID (no symptoms, just positive tests) that kept her away from a week’s worth of events.  

“Belfast”
Despite the surprise win for Apple Studios’ “CODA” at the SAG Awards and its subsequent rise in all the Oscar polls, few people expect it to do much of anything this weekend, barring a sudden surge in support from, say, heartland members of the Critics Choice Association. (Supporting actor Troy Kotsur will probably win a couple of times, though.) The film that could really use a boost, though, is Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” a seeming consensus-type film that needs a major win or two to emerge as a viable candidate going into Oscar voting.

It should win Outstanding British Film at BAFTA, but that won’t really be enough to generate momentum. If it pulls off a best-picture upset at BAFTA or the CCA, it will start to regain its status as a contender for the top Oscar; if not, it’ll be a lot harder going into voting for the Oscars.

Jessica Chastain, Olivia Colman, Nicole Kidman and Kristen Stewart
The hardest category to figure out at this point is probably Best Actress, and BAFTA is no help at all: Its six nominees – Lady Gaga, Alana Haim, Emilia Jones, Renate Reinsve, Joanna Scanlan and Tessa Thompson – do not include a single actress up for the Oscar, the first time that’s ever happened. So it’s up to the Critics Choice voters to help make sense of a category where Kidman won at the Golden Globes for “Being the Ricardos,” Chastain won at the SAG Awards for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Stewart got snubbed by those shows but then saved by Oscar nominating voters and Colman is, well, the formidable Olivia Colman.

Chastain or Kidman could come out of Sunday with a little boost (though there’s absolutely no overlap between Oscar and CCA voters), Stewart’s story of redemption could get a nice Act 2 and Colman could remind people she’s still here. But whoever wins had better beware of the fifth Oscar nominee, Penélope Cruz, who isn’t up for any awards this weekend but just may be the favorite of the Academy’s increasingly large overseas contingent.

The Critics Choice Awards
This was supposed to be the year when the Critics Choice Association could steal some thunder from the reeling Hollywood Foreign Press Association. NBC opted not to broadcast the Golden Globes while the HFPA cleaned up its act, and CCA grabbed that Sunday-night slot in early January and dreamed of being the show that would get lots of attention and be followed by lots of studio parties.

Then Omicron hit, killing the potential HFPA-CCA showdown and forcing Critics Choice to move to a mid-March date rather than go virtual. But the only available Sunday prior to the Oscars turned out to be the same day as BAFTA, which has far more luster – so the Critics Choice Association dealt with the fact that a hefty chunk of their nominees would be in London by adding a late-night, televised celebration in that city.

These aren’t the best circumstances under which to assert a claim to Globes-style visibility, but it’s what the CCA has to deal with. Their best-case scenario is that their show turns out to be enjoyable and the HPFA continues to implode. One of those things, at least, seems very likely.

Oscar prognosticators
People like me have a lot at stake this weekend, too. If “The Power of the Dog” cleans up, will it be harder to question its chances? If it doesn’t, will there be any clarity about what could beat it? And at a time when the Academy is getting more international, with less overlap every year with the Hollywood guilds, can we really trust all the precursor awards that we so studiously track?

(The answer is almost certainly no, but we do it anyway.)

Even going outside the main categories, what if “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” wins at the Annie Awards on Saturday night and then repeats at the Critics Choice on Sunday? Will that upend an Oscar race that has been all “Encanto” all the time? I think a “Mitchells” victory or two might well happen – and if it does I don’t think it’ll mean a damn thing, but it might make some pundits sweat about a locked-in category taking a sudden turn.  

So those of us whose business it is to know what’s going to happen, or at least to sound as if we know, could end the weekend feeling more secure or more adrift. Of course, we can always kick the ball down the road and wait for next weekend’s Producers Guild Awards, which is usually a key because it’s the only other awards show to use the preferential system.  

That’s when we’ll really know what’s going on, right?

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